Six friends and I awoke before dawn to float the last few miles to the take-out of the Colorado River at Diamond Creek. It was December 18, 2009 and it was the completion of my first trip through the Grand Canyon (see trip report HERE). Chris Gallaway produced a mini-movie about our winter 2009 trip and it is one of the segments featured in the new DVD “Coming Home” from Rapid Transit (see trailer and ordering info HERE). Less than six months later I found myself back at Lee’s Ferry about to spend another two weeks this incredible place. The following is my day-by-day record of our June 2010 descent.
June 12 - Departure
Joey and Emily departed from Atlanta in Joey’s car, while Vitaly, Shannon and I left my house in Alabama in my truck. We rendezvoused at a gas station outside of Memphis, Tennessee and continued to drive west all day, through the night, and onward in the morning.
June 13 – Flagstaff
We arrived in Flagstaff in the middle of the day and shortly thereafter were united with John, Amber and Leigh. Our eight person crew was finally together and we spent the rest of the day methodically completing the many preparations for the trip. We picked up the food containers and coolers from rental outfitter. We bought all the perishable food items and block ice for the coolers. We then took over a section of the grocery store parking lot and packed all of our food for the next two weeks. When the food packing was compete, we hit the town to celebrate the adventure to come and for a gluttonous “last supper” (Thai food!) before two weeks on river rations.
June 14 – Rig Day
After the inevitable last minute errands around Flagstaff, we were finally on the way to the river late in the morning. We arrived at the put-in at Lee’s Ferry in the middle of the afternoon and spent the next several hours rigging and packing the three, 18’ oar rafts that would carry our belongings for the next 14 days. That night we camped at the put in (river mile 0.0) excited for the trip ahead and ready to leave the logistical hassles behind.
June 15 – Launch Day - River Day #1
Time rarely seems to move slower than the last hour before the start of a big trip. Sitting through the orientation with the NPS Ranger is certainly one of those times. As soon as it was over, we hurriedly shoved off from shore with ear-to-ear smiles on everyone’s faces. Joey, John and I were kayaking and the other five members of our group we split among the 3 rafts. As we drifted downstream, passing under Navajo Bridge, I felt an immediate sense of relief at having jumped the logistical hurtles to make the trip happen and knowing that for the next 14 days we could all focus on the river and the canyon that surrounds it.
Our first river day we covered an easy 12.1 miles, including the first named rapids (Badger and Soap Creek). For everyone rowing the rafts, it was their first-time rowing and below Soap Creek Rapid it was clear they were impressed and a little intimidated by the size of the water. That night we camped at Brown’s Inscription (mile 12.1) and celebratory drinks and passing around John’s guitar kept us up late, just happy to be exactly where we were; in a beautiful spot with two weeks of adventure ahead of us.
June 16 – River Day #2
Day two was Emily's birthday and it also turned out to be the hardest day of the trip. We covered only 8.6 miles and encountered extremely hard headwinds and one of the most challenging raft lines of the trip. On my winter 2009 descent, high water had allowed our rafts to skirt House Rock Rapid and avoid the big holes on the left. However, at the low summer flow, avoiding the holes in the rafts was impossible and they were forced to run the meat. All three raft lines looked capable of producing a flip, but it was the third and final raft that got tossed.
Shannon was at the oars and Amber was riding in the bow when they entered the hole slightly sideways and immediately flipped. Luckily everyone, except me (I was videoing from above), was at the bottom of the rapid and could quickly jump into action. By the time I got in my boat, ran the rapid, and eddied out at the bottom, Shannon and Amber were safely on shore and the overturned raft was being positioned in the shallows. In less than 15 minutes we had the raft righted and decided to stay put and eat a leisurely lunch.
By the time we ate and got moving again, the headwind we had experienced in the morning had developed into the hardest wind I have ever experienced on a river. It was clear the rowing was going to be extremely difficult and we loaded all the kayaks onto the rafts so we could all help row. The rest of the afternoon I rowed constantly into the wind as hard as I could and made extremely slow progress. By the time we reached North Canyon Camp (mile 20.7) my hands were badly blistered and the groups spirits were at an all time low.
June 17 – River Day #3
Waking up on day three, we were relieved to find that the previous day’s torturous wind has subsided. We covered 23.3 miles through my favorite section of the canyon. Highlights from the day included Stanton’s Cave, Vasey’s Paradise, Redwall Cavern and the proposed site of the Marble Canyon Dam. The great scenery, fun rapids, and relatively ease of the rowing rejuvenated the group from the previous days perils and there were smiles all around that night camping next to President Harding rapid (mile 44.0).
June 18 – River Day #4
Day four we got started earlier than usual and quickly made our way to Nankoweap by mid day. After a quick lunch, the rest of the group hiked the steep trail up to the Nankoweap Gainaries while I dozed in the shade of some small trees. After their return we continued on the camp at Sixty Mile Camp (mile 60.2) bringing our total mileage for the day to 16.2.
June 19 – River Day #5
From Sixty Mile Camp it was a short float in the morning down to the confluence of the Little Colorado River (LCR). We were hoping that by arriving early in the day we might avoid the crowds while we explored the LRC, but even with our early arrival there were already two commercial trips at the LCR and another would arrive while we were there. The crowds were a far cry from the solitude I felt during my winter 2009 trip, but floating down the LRC in swim trunks and t-shirts highlighted the benefits of a summer trip as well. By the end of the day we had covered 16.3 miles and camped at a beautiful spot named Papago (mile 76.5) just upstream of Hance Rapid.
June 20 – River Day #6
Day six began with a short float and a long scout at Hance Rapid, one of the most technical rapids of the trip. Unlike most rapids in the Grand Canyon, Hance actually has a lot of rocks to avoid, but everyone made it through unscathed and we pressed on arriving at Phantom Ranch early in the afternoon. We all hurried up to the lodge and scribbled out a few postcards, then returned to the boats to top off every water jug we had, since it would be our last easy access to potable water. That night we camped at Trinity Creek (mile 92.1) bringing our total distance for the day to 15.6 miles.
June 21 – River Day #7
Day seven was the single day containing the highest number of large rapids. We covered 22.8 miles containing lots of classic Grand Canyon rapids, including: Granite, Hermit, Crystal, Tuna Creek, Sapphire, Serpentine, etc. We made camp at Upper Garnet (mile 114.9) which I had also camped at during my December 2009 trip.
June 22 – River Day #8
Day eight we packed the boats and made our way down to the beach just upstream of Elves Chasm by mid morning. Just like at the LCR, we were hoping by going early in the day we might avoid the crowds at this popular hike, but again, two commercial trips were already there. The result was that rather than enjoying the beauty of the place, I found myself standing in line with 50 other people all waiting to get up to the main falls and pool at Elves Chasm. Unfortunately, the crowd spoiled the place for me and made me wish we hadn’t stopped at all. By the end of the day we had covered 18.8 miles and camped at Talking Heads (mile 133.7).
June 23 – River Day #9
On day nine, John, Joey, and Vitaly awoke predawn and paddled kayaks downstream and across the river to the mouth of Tapeats Creek. They stashed the boats and began the long hike up the Tapeats drainage, then crossed over to come down Deer Creek, where we would meet them later in the morning. The ladies and I all slept in and then fixed a huge breakfast burrito bar and ate our hearts out. We took our time packing the boats and then began making our way downstream, stopping to retrieve the kayaks from the mouth of Tapeats Creek. Shortly thereafter, we passed through the narrowed point on the river (a mere 75 feet wide!) and proceed to Deer Creek Falls.
The timing couldn’t have been better. The hiking crew reached the top of Deer Creek Falls in time to see us rowing towards the beach at the base of the falls. They came down to join us just after we tied up the boats. Prior to leaving, we talked with some of the commercial guides who were with the other trips at the falls. They all told us they were planning to go to Havasu Canyon the next morning, which had been our plan too. However, we quickly decided that we should try to get to Havasu today to perhaps have it to ourselves. It was a good decision and when we reached Havasu about 6:45 pm, we were the only group there. We explored and enjoyed the canyon for about an hour before continuing a short ways downstream to camp at First Chance (mile 158.3), bringing our total mileage for the day to 24.6.
June 24 – River Day #10
Day ten started off a little slower than most days. We were pleased with our mileage the previous day and even with a late start we managed to easily cover 19.7 miles. We stopped for lunch at National Canyon and hiked up it about a mile to where it emerges from a tighter slot canyon. A commercial trip arrived at National Canyon for lunch as well and told us that they had planned to have lunch at Havasu, but it was so crowed that they couldn’t even get into the eddy and had to bypass it all together. It was disappointing for them, but we felt even more validated in our decision to go to Havasu late the previous day. After feeling crowded the whole trip, we had finally managed to miss the crowds and have Havasu to ourselves. The rest of the day we saw a lot of big horned sheep (more than the rest of the trip combined!) and camped at Above Anvil Camp (mile 178.0).
June 25 – River Day #11
Day eleven was a big one for our group. All of our rowers had been getting better and stronger throughout the trip and it was time for them to meet the Grand Canyons largest rapid. We took a long time to scout at Lava, but everyone finally worked out there planned lines and who would row each raft. Joey and John paddled through first (in kayaks) so they could be at the bottom in case we had a raft flip. The potential was certainly there for a flip, but one by one our three rafts came through with good lines and no problems. The previous ten days had taught them what they needed to know to pass this final exam!
From Lava we continued downstream to Whitmore Wash where we stopped for lunch and a short hike up to view some pictographs on the canyon wall. After lunch we continued to Fat City (mile 192.2) where we camped, bringing our total mileage for the day to 14.2.
June 26 – River Day #12
Day twelve brought a bit of a strange mood over our group. Everyone’s spirits seemed to have been dampened by the fact that we were past Lava and there were no more major milestones left between us and our take-out. We covered 13.5 miles so quickly, that we set up camp at 205 Mile Camp (mile 205.7) in the early afternoon, leaving us to cook in the heat for hours before the sun finally dropped over the canyon rim. However, it was also Joey's birthday, so we had to do a little celebrating as well.
June 27 – River Day #13
On day thirteen, another surprisingly fast 18 miles brought us within few miles of the take-out by early afternoon. With only a couple camps between us and Diamond Creek, we didn’t want to risk going to far and having to crash an already occupied camp. We set up camp at 224 Mile Camp (mile 223.7) early in the afternoon and for a second day in a row spent the rest of the day trying to move with the shade and struggling to stay cool. Our only solace was that we knew that we could easily make it to the take-out the following morning with plenty of time to sort and de-rig before our scheduled pick-up.
June 28 – River Day #14
We awoke fairly early on day fourteen, packed up, and proceed downstream 3 miles to the take-out at Diamond Creek (Mile 226). Our shuttle drivers arrived as we were working on the tedious task of de-rigging and sorting all our gear. With-in about an hour we were bouncing our way up Diamond Creek Road and back towards pavement, traffic, and everyday life. Our group spent on final evening together, beginning with a big dinner at Flagstaff Brewing Company and followed by a slideshow of photos from the trip.
June 29 – Departure
The next morning I awoke around 5:30 to drive John and Amber to meet the shuttle that would take them back to Phoenix to catch their flight home. Later that morning Joey, Emily, and Leigh would pile into Joey’s car and Vitaly, Shannon and I would load into my truck, for the long journey home. Rotating drivers we made good time and were back in Alabama by the following evening.
June 30 - Home
Our arrival home brought mixed emotions for me. I was glad to have safely completed another great trip and I was certainly looking forward relaxing for a few days. However, knowing trip was over and not knowing when my next adventure would be, brought on an all too familiar feeling. I momentarily felt it at Diamond Creek and managed to push it out of my mind, but it was a feeling that would return. Shannon and I jokingly call it P.E.D., Post Expedition Depression. Depression is probably too strong a word, but I can’t think of a better one to describe the downcast feeling that occurs after a big trip is over and I’ve returned to day-to-day life. I’ve talked to many friends and acquaintances that have experienced it as well. Maybe we just have a shared urge for travel, but it is something that seems to happen to many of us after a big trip and the only cure seems to be planning the next trip. So, I try to do at least two big trips a year, usually one in the summer and one in the winter. So the cycle continues.
Here's the video of our trip...
I had know idea at the time, but seven months later (January of 2011) I would be back at Lee’s Ferry putting back on the Colorado for a 6-night, kayak only, winter descent. Stay tuned for a report and photos from that trip in the near future!
Until Next Time…